My eyes drifted down to the notes on the floor from Atchley to “Ken,” the pink writing steadily churning the fear in my blood.
“My life fell apart.”
“What are these letters from Atchley to you where you go by ‘Ken?’ These like love letters.”
“Oh Jesus fucking Christ Hannah. You think I had some weird incest thing with fucking Atchley. You think I killed our baby sister. Why the hell would I do that? You don’t know me as well as you should, but you know me better than that. When have I ever been the least bit violent?”
I took a few long moments to think about it. None of it made sense. That was true, but I still couldn’t shake all that had happened since I started in on that damned crossword puzzle.
“You remember Kenny Kershaw from up on Howard Road. The kid who was like two years younger than you and like three years older than Atchley. The redhead, with the freckles. He was Atchley’s first boyfriend, but she was too young and he was too old. I found them down at the shack kissing one day and found all these notes she had written him. I put a stop to it because it wasn’t right. I just never threw the letters away after I found them.”
I did remember Kenny Kershaw. Everything Charlie said about him was correct and sounded right. I did remember seeing Kenny and Atchley playing with each other on the playground in elementary school a few times. I also remember Kenny earning a reputation for dating younger girls in high school and dating high school girls after he graduated.
“What about Jessica Wedington?”
“I can’t believe I’m actually answering a question about this. Did Lacy tell you about that?”
“I really wish she would stop spreading that rumor. What I told Lacy back in high school was that I lost my virginity to Jessica in my truck, but like a month before she died. She got confused and has been telling people for like 15 years now that it was like an hour before she wandered off. I actually talked with the sheriffs about it back in high school. Took a lie detector test and everything. You can call them and ask them about it. Tyler Hoover and Grant Love were with me too that night. The whole night and you can call them right now and ask them about it.”
“The thing is, I’m doing one of those crossword puzzles Jonathan used to make. The ones he taught you how to make too, and it has me tracking down all these questions about you and I think it is going to add up with the center message saying something like…you did it. Like you killed Atchley or something.”
“Are you crazy? Jonathan used to always make those about me as like a joke and then I would make them about him and we would trade off. Come on Hannah.”
The case against Charlie was crumbling around me at a rapid pace. I started to actually breathe at a normal pace for the first time in minutes.
“You swear to God on all this Charlie?” I asked.
I knew that, unlike me, Charlie maintained a serious belief in Christianity and went to church every Sunday until he moved away. I trusted him to tell the truth if I drug God into the conversation.
“I’ll swear on a Bible right now if you get me one,” Charlie said calmly through the door. “Just open the door please. I came here to politely ask you if I could move into the house for a little while. Just until I get my shit together. I’m leaving for an MLB scout training thing in Florida for the Orioles in a month, I just need to get myself together and not sleep with rats in an abandoned storage facility. Please, Hannah?”
I broke. I wheeled over to the door, unlocked it and took a long look up at Charlie.
Charlie looked dirty, broken and beaten, but didn’t look the least bit dangerous or crazy to me. I could smell the thick coat of must on him from all the way down in my chair. I could see tears dribbling down the top of his cheeks before they got lost in his ragged, brown facial hair.
Those dribbling tears broke out into an open weep once Charlie looked at me for long enough. I literally saw his knees begin to wobble.
“I’m sorry,” Charlie muttered and looked away from me.
“It’s okay. I assured.”
I think Charlie could tell I was still reluctant to trust him. He didn’t come in the doorway, stood just outside.
“How did you even get in here?” I asked the instant the thought crossed my mind.